We’re not ones to bury the lead, so we’ll dive right into it.
What is a death euphemism?
A euphemism is a word or phrase that’s less jarring than a blunt expression. So, a death euphemism refers to the many ways you can talk about the D-word, without actually saying it. (The word is death. Get it?)
Why do we employ euphemisms for death?
You mean, why can’t we just say the word? Well, euphemisms help to soften the blow and make it easier to talk about death, grief and the dying process. They’re especially helpful when talking to kids or people who are anxious about death … and are often expressed to offer spiritual comfort, as well.
Also, some people use humour as a coping mechanism, which is perfectly okay; we all deal with heavy stuff in our own way. Plus, it’s healthy to be ‘death positive’ – to accept that it is gonna happen someday and make arrangements to prepare. (Keep in mind that while these euphemisms help to facilitate challenging conversations, it’s also fine to use the word death, if you’re comfortable with it).
Wait. What’s the difference between a euphemism and an idiom?
An idiom is a word or phrase that takes a figurative meaning, not a literal one. For example, if you tell someone to ‘break a leg’ in show business, you don’t really mean it. (You’d hope). On the flip side – as we covered earlier – a euphemism is a type of idiom that softens an otherwise blunt or harsh topic.
So, now that we’ve nailed that definition coffin shut, let’s get you started with your word-and-phrase bank of 20 death euphemisms. Here’s a big chunky list we prepared earlier:
Kicked the bucket
In our lifetimes, most of us create a ‘bucket list’, which is a list of things we want to complete or experience before we (as the saying goes) … kick the bucket. Whether it’s skydiving, reconnecting with a long-lost friend or travelling to a specific region of the world – whether we have a physical list or a mental one, most of us have a bucket list of our own. (There’s also a great 2007 movie about it starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. The Bucket List – would recommend).
Playing the great gig in the sky
In 1973, Pink Floyd released their song, ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’, about a person who accepts death as a natural part of their life and who is ready to die. The phrase has since been widely adopted to refer to death.
Bites the dust
Unlike ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’, biting the dust doesn’t stem from the Queen song that we know and love. (Rather, the opposite!) It literally means to fall face down in the dirt or to suffer defeat.
While the phrase ‘lick the dust’ is written in the Bible, one of the first uses of the phrase (as we know it today) was seen in Tobias Smollet’s 1748 translated version of ‘The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane’. So, when someone bites the dust, they’re departing this life. However, the term also refers to a loss, a failure or a lack of success.
Not the most pleasant term, to be frank. It stems from the word ‘carcass’, which doesn’t exactly lend itself well visually. Nevertheless, it’s commonly used – especially in Australia.
Meeting your maker
The phrase ‘making your maker’ has Christian roots – it refers to the belief that when people die, they are called to be judged before God.
Commonly used euphemisms in everyday life
Over time, certain death-related euphemisms have crept their way into our daily vernacular. Often, we choose to say these phrases instead of announcing that someone has ‘died’ – for so many reasons. We may be cushioning the topic for others, dealing with feelings of denial, attempting to comfort a grieving loved one, or avoiding our own anxieties about the topic. (The list goes on and on).
We’ve compiled a list of some of the most common phrases for your perusal below.
- Passed away
- Passed on
- Resting in peace
- Succumbed to an illness
- Took their last breath
- Went to a better place
- They’re gone
- They’ve departed
- We lost them
- They slipped away
- Lost the battle
- They didn’t make it
- Was called home
- Floated or drifted away
- Sleeping peacefully now
Before we wind down – a final note on humour and reading the room. When broaching the topic of death, try to be mindful of the people you are communicating with. After all – they may have just lost a loved one and the grief may still be raw. While many of us rely on humour to get us through dark times, for others, certain phrases may seem inappropriate or insensitive … or it might just be too soon to let the humour cat out of the bag. (As well-intentioned as the sentiments may be).
With all this in mind, know that there is no right or wrong way to speak about death. From funny, to colloquial, to religious or spiritual death euphemisms, there are so many ways to refer to death. The important thing is to ensure you’re talking about it and setting plans in motion for when the time comes.
Now that we’ve come to the end (of this blog), it’s time to get cracking on that life admin list of yours. And speaking of bucket lists earlier, we’ve got something to add to yours: creating or updating your legally valid Will! Do future you a solid and tick the 15-minute task off your to-do list today.